Don't Take Antidepressants That Haven't Been Prescribed To You, Experts Warn

"The consequences could be catastrophic."

A surprising number of people are taking antidepressants which haven’t been prescribed to them, a survey has found.

Nearly a third (29%) were found to be taking, or had previously taken, a form of the medicine despite not having a prescription, the poll of 2,000 people by Chemist 4 U revealed.

Among those surveyed who have a mental illness, 25% said they didn’t go to their doctor for help because “they have used services before and they were poor” and “the below-par services have a bad reputation”.

Now, medical professionals are warning against taking antidepressants without a prescription, explaining that the consequences could be “catastrophic”.

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There are 27 antidepressant drugs licensed in the UK, all of which work in different ways and are prescribed in varying doses, depending on the severity of a person’s mental illness.

More than four million people in England are long-term users of antidepressants, with 7.3 million being prescribed antidepressants between 2017 and 2018, a Freedom of Information request by the Guardian revealed.

Dr Kenny Livingstone, a registered GP and founder of ZoomDoc, said it’s unfortunately common for patients to take or use medication prescribed to family members or friends, including antidepressants. “It is also very dangerous,” he said.

This is because the drugs might not work alongside other medications, or may react badly with them. Additionally, Dr Livingstone said patients who are depressed, anxious or having other mental health issues are clinically not well enough to make objective decisions with regards to their own health.

Shamir Patel, pharmacist from Chemist 4 U, said medicines are prescribed because they are appropriate to the person they have been dispensed to. “A GP or pharmacist will make a full assessment of an individual and their condition before assigning medicine to them,” he said. “So taking medicine that is not specifically prescribed to you can be absolutely detrimental to your health.

Both Patel and Dr Livingstone warned that antidepressants should never be taken without medical advice and monitoring.

“Often when starting antidepressants, your mood can dip and a depressed patient may become more depressed,” said Dr Livingstone. “Patients may not realise this and the consequences could be catastrophic.”

Patel added: “You could be putting something incredibly damaging to you in your body – no two people are the same.”

It’s far safer to see a GP or speak to one. Dr Livingstone urged people who aren’t happy with their GP to find another one they feel comfortable with.

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email:
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on